Fernando Torres spared Liverpool’s blushes by grabbing another late, late winner to beat Portsmouth 2-3 at Fratton Park in a remarkable comeback which sees the Reds regain top spot in the Premier League.
Doubts were cast when Rafa Benitez named an under-strength line-up. With Steven Gerrard injured, Lucas Leiva suspended, Benitez rested the likes of Xabi Alonso, Fernando Torres, Dirk Kuyt and Albert Riera.
But Rafa’s magic worked again when, after an open but chance-less first half, the game came to life during the second.
After an hour’s play, great work from Yossi Benayoun played in Kuyt down the right side of the penalty area who slid in a low cross only for Ryan Babel to miss a gaping chance. The Dutchman took his eye off the ball and messed up a glorious opportunity for Liverpool to take the lead.
Two minutes later, the Reds were punished. Good feeding play by former Reds striker Peter Crouch saw him play in teammate David Nugent and the boyhood Evertonian cooly stuck away the first goal of the game past a helpless Pepe Reina.
The goal was a wake-up call and Liverpool pressed forward. Babel showed more and more sparks going forward and an equaliser looked inevitable.
It came via an indirect free-kick on 69 minutes. Poor defending by Crouch forced him to play an awkward ball back to another former Red, David James in Pompey’s goal. The passage was deemed a backpass and Fabio Aurelio executed a great finish from the resulting free-kick inside the penalty area.
If Portsmouth’s first was a wake-up call for Benitez’s men, Aurelio’s equaliser seemed to put them back to sleep and Porstmouth did their own pressing forward.
The Reds fell behind yet again with just twelve minutes to go. Aurelio giving away a silly free kick on the wide right, which sloppy defending and poor goalkeeping on Reina’s part, let in Herman Hreidarsson to regain the home team’s lead.
It looked as if Portsmouth had done enough to clinch a vital, and impressive victory. But Liverpool weren’t done just yet.
Up stepped Torres to offer a helping hand. With five minutes remaining he worked hard down the right side of the box to slide the ball to Kuyt who strongly peeled off Portsmouth defenders to launch the ball home from close range and get the score back on terms once again.
And two minutes into injury time, Torres popped up with a goal of his own to send Portsmouth packing. The Spaniard, who had spent most of the game on the bench, created space to nod home a Javier Mascherano cross and be the hero of the hour once again.
Liverpool now sit top of the Premier League table, one point clear of second place Manchester United who have two games in hand, one being tomorrow’s away at West Ham.
The Reds are now five points clear of third place Chelsea, who were held to a goalless draw at home to Hull City earlier today.
All hail Fernando Torres!
Team News and Line-up
Incredible, Rafa Benitez starts with SIX defenders in his team to face Portsmouth tonight. Alvaro Arbeloa, Andrea Dossena, Jamie Carragher, Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel and Fabio Aurelio all start the match – leaving Sami Hyypia feeling left out on the bench!
Aurelio is expected to line-up somewhere in midfield with Mascherano.
Alonso, Torres, Riera and Kuyt are all rested and start on the bench.
Liverpool: Reina, Arbeloa, Dossena, Agger, Carragher, Skrtel, Mascherano, Aurelio, Benayoun, Babel, Ngog.
Subs: Cavalieri, Torres, Hyypia, Riera, Alonso, Kuyt, El Zhar.